Unless the Blue Jays sign Jose Bautista to an extension or trade for Michael Young there doesn't figure to be much Blue Jay related issues to discuss this week. There is also still the possibility the Jays could add another free agent on a minor league deal before spring training opens next week. Guys like Willy Aybar, Russell Branyan and Hank Blalock are still out there looking for work.
Branyan is of particular interest to the Jays with the way their roster is currently constructed. That will be touched on this week too. In the meantime, the Jays could have an issue to resolve this spring with a pair of guys already on the roster, John McDonald and Mike McCoy. Last season the two were both on the bench essentially filling the same role of utility infielder until the middle of June.
This season the Jays will have to skip on keeping a pair of light hitting, quality fielders on the bench if they do, as they have said they may, go with an eight man bullpen. They should skip the whole idea even if they go with a traditional seven man bullpen and bring on a corner infield or corner outfield type who can hit or keep Corey Patterson around as the fourth bench player instead.
That decision is a relatively easy one but deciding on which to keep around is a little trickier. Financially, the Jays owe McDonald 1.5 million dollars this season where as McCoy would likely cost them a half million or so. It's possible McDonald could be traded and the Jays could avoid paying him if they decide they don't need him. Even if they couldn't eating that amount of money is insignificant enough to not be a worry. They could also get him through waivers and stash him at Triple-A, if McDonald was open to that sort of thing.
Whatever happens the amount of money being spent on the utility infield bench spot shouldn't get in the way of which player to go with. The incumbent is McDonald who's spent parts of six seasons with the Jays compiling a .242/.277/.339 batting line. He rarely walks, doesn't hit for power and doesn't hit for average either. His existence as a Major Leaguer has been completely justified solely by his glove work. His fielding around the infield has been worth 40 defensive runs saved above average and has UZR/150 marks of +18.9 at second base and +6.4 at shortstop in his career.
McCoy has had a solid minor league career at the plate but as he approaches thirty years of age, has logged only 96 MLB plate appearances. In 1465 career Triple-A plate appearances, almost all in the hitter happy Pacific Coast League, McCoy has hit .296/.391/.405. The PCL inflates power numbers so McCoy probably has just as little power as McDonald but it's clear he should be capable of walking quite a bit more. Odds are he could probably out hit McDonald at this point too.
Defensively, the limited minor league fielding stats available suggest McCoy would be below average across the diamond. In terms of pure versatility though McCoy has spent ample time at second, third and short but also has 88 games amongst all three outfield positions in his career. That includes 24 in center, 7 in left and 10 in right with Colorado Springs in 2009. McDonald has only six games in the outfield in his career.
Up until now Bill James' 2011 projections have been used in this space to look forward but we'll take Tom Tango's 2011 Marcel projections for a spin today. They came out last week and you can download them in spreadsheet form here. FanGraphs has them for every player on their player pages too and they went ahead and extrapolated out some stats not included with the downloadable sheets. The one big benefit of the Marcel stuff is there's projections for more players than James has, including, as luck would have it, Mike McCoy.
Marcel's has McDonald down for a .242 batting average with an optimistic 5.1% walk rate and a .132 isolated power. The walk rate seems optimistic because McDonald hasn't had a walk rate anywhere near that high since 2006. Of course, McDonald's .204 ISO in 2010 was more than double his .089 career ISO, small sample sizes can be funny like that. Anyways, McDonald's offensive projection boils down to a .287 wOBA.
McCoy's outlook is a little better, mostly on the strength of his walk drawing abilities. Marcel's pegs him for a .239 batting average, 8.5% walk rate and a .126 ISO good enough for a .302 wOBA. Not light years better than McDonald but with more reason for optimism as McCoy will be six years younger than McDonald on Opening Day, and has hit for almost a .310 average in the minors the last two seasons.
There's no lefty/righty split data to speak of available for McCoy's time in the minors but both him and McDonald are righties and McDonald isn't exactly a lefty killer anyways. The offensive edge goes to McCoy, the defensive ability goes to McDonald and McCoy's defensive versatility breaks the tie.
McCoy would be able to fill both the utility infield and fifth outfielder role, albeit with less quality infield defense, but coupled with his offensive upside he nudges ahead of the incumbent McDonald and should be on the bench if and when the Jays have to choose one or the other.